Saturday, July 28, 2007

God out of a Machine

Wikipedia's users describe a 'deus ex machina' as "an unexpected, artificial, or improbable character, device, or event introduced suddenly in a work of fiction or drama to resolve a situation or untangle a plot (e.g. the rope that binds the hero's hands is luckily chewed off by a rat, or an angel suddenly appearing to solve problems)". I thought about how amusing this translated phrases is, literally 'God out of a machine'. I suppose I could have drawn the luminous figure of God appearing out of a vending machine, but that would probably be a little idolatrous. Funny, yes, but I'd probably have to obscure his face and all (God is secretly shy).
Instead, I chose to do some word-play. I like this version, in which God appears out of nowhere to rain and thunder on my parade. Notice that I'm only steps away from a church, where it's always sunny and beautiful. Perhaps a Target Ex Machina could suddenly send down a stylish umbrella? Or at least some galoshes for these sinners.

(Click on the image for a bigger version where all my photoshopping foibles show.)

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Emotive Fireworks

A scene from the Fourth of July in Boston, Mass., which features synchronized fireworks to popular tunes.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Air thoughts, P thoughts, A through G thoughts

Air holds up sounds and brings them to my ears! I was sitting on Flagstaff Hill for lunch today and every once and a while the wind would carry the sounds of disembodied jazz to my ears, which was coming from live lunchtime music about a quarter mile down the street at Schenley Plaza. So cool! I also love when I can sometimes hear church bells at my apartment, carried by the breeze, when normally all I get for street noise is unsa-unsa-unsa ghettoblasting car sounds and the occasional dog-peeing-on-a-tree sound.
Speaking of peeing, I saw a drunk guy relieve himself on the door of the building across the street from mine in the middle of the night. Should I have been more of a good Samaritan, I would have loved to yell at him and startle him so he'd jump back and pee all over his pants and probably fall over, pants on ankles, onto his fratty face. And then kick him symbolically in the face for being such a loser. But you know, I wasn't feeling like much of a good Samaritan that night.
Speaking of good nights, I've finally been sleeping better after my sore throat has calmed down. The doctor called today and I had Strep Throat Type C. Last fall I had Type G (oo, a rarity). Before that I don't think I had strep throat in 10 years. But one day I might be lucky enough to collect all the letters. I hope I have to wait a good while for that.

Monday, July 16, 2007

100th Post!

I noticed on the blogger dashboard that I had just made my 99th post, and this one will be the 100th! It's a blogger anniversary of sorts.
On this momentous occassion, I thought I might share with you some tidbits of things which are happening around the time of the 100th post. I've also included a comic of me boring the 100th post into the ground with something like a sledgehammer. Which is totally not how one would put in fenceposts that look like that, I know. But I'm going for effect here, not accuracy.
-5.05pm is a special time. 5.05pm today signaled all the hunky metrosexual men in Pittsburgh to go out for a run, passing me as I walked home from work. Bless them and their beautiful toned biceps.
-Friendly visitors and one's curiosity about anything on the internet can make a boring desk job go by in a snap.
-Cakes baked from scratch are very impressive! I've seen two baked this weekend, a yellow layer cake with magenta buttercream frosting, and a green tea cake with neon green frosting.
And finally,
-If you get prescribed a medicine for sore throat called 'Magic Swizzle G', it will definitely not taste magical. It will taste like sh*t. Then, after you swish and gargle, you have to swallow it, "*" and all. Thank goodness my blog always tastes good. And I still have those mints from a dead woman on hand if you need one.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Sounds of the Orchestra of Birds

I recently started writing a piece for full orchestra, which is part of the curriculum here at CMU, with the School of Music's Philharmonic playing the piece in a concert. I had a discussion with my composition teacher Nancy Galbraith about the 'bureaucracy' of writing a piece like this.
I'd like to believe I just write music that is as good as I could make it for the specifics given, inspired by the world around me. However, there are so many other factors which influence music writing, consciously and subconsciously. It's an amazing opportunity to have an orchestra of sound at your disposal, and the possibility of an additional reading of the piece by the Pittsburgh Symphony. But both orchestras have limitations of instruments, rehearsal time, and even union obligations. The judge of the Symphony submission is the incredible John Corigliano, who I greatly admire. Then there's the chance at cold hard cash for the winner of the 'competition'. As I continue to write, to what extent will the work appeal to one group of people with a certain aesthetic sense? Will I make the work for my own personal growth, not caring about whether other people like it or not? I decided I'm not going to write a purely 'pop' piece, like I might be tempted to do. As fun as some dance-club beats would be, interspersed with clapping and pop music fragments, I'm here to write a more 'academic' piece and grow from that process. (Later, once the Icelandic Symphony gives me a call, I'll write them the dance-club piece on commission.) But I also don't think I want to write a purely emotional work, because it won't win the prize for being robust enough in form and development. As heartfelt as a 'lamentation' could be, it won't win any money because emotional works are not really 'competition winners'. And frankly, I'd like to attempt to win some money and pay back more student loan. I don't think there are any composers out there who'd rather not try and win the money, nah, that's okay, I'll pass. I'm gonna go home now and tape up my cardboard box for the winter.

My starting idea was Lake Myvatn, in Iceland (quel suprise), and the sounds that I might hear in my head that come from the changing weather there. Covered in ice in the winter, the lake is also a hotbed of volcanic activity. There are also millions of different birds on the lake in summertime, so I'm hoping to have some sort of sound representation of a in the orchestra, without using actual bird noises or bird calls (though I may pay a little tribute to Olivier Messaien, the composer king of birdsong). I think the drums will be busy with a lot of flapping wing noises. And maybe there could be some airy, distant chirps or something. The buzz of millions of mosquitos.

Fortunately, after our theoretical chat, I played what I have so far and Nancy liked my beginning work. I think I'm off to a good start with music that seems both Impressionistic/emotional, and intellectual and (hopefully) fun to play. I'm also writing the piece in a way I haven't done for a long time, writing a reduction down on paper from start to finish so that it can organically 'grow'. Usually, I come up with some snappy ideas and then plop them into the computer, and more or less piece them together, which has resulted in varied levels of success. This time, I don't want to write down the ending of the piece, and fill in the rest to catch up to it. I want the end to come on its own time. We'll see how that goes. I'm impatient when it comes to endings.

Sunday, July 08, 2007


Overheard in Pittsburgh: An elderly woman on the 71A bus, Center Ave., wearing a grossly-oversized sweater emblazoned with the acronym 'B-I-B-L-E'.

"I'm from the old school, you know. Mmm-hmm. Where kids treat their parents with respect. None of that bossing their parents around. I've seen some crazy things nowadays. Kids with their pants around their ankles. No, sir! They don't know what they're doing. Probably sinners. Parents are cheatin' around. And don't even think about the gays! Homosexuality is a sin and those mortal sinners will burn in hell for eternity!! And bestiality. It's immoral. We gotta praise Jesus. Burning homosexuals in hellfire. It's an abomination. We gotta put faith in the Lord!! Well, it's my stop. Ride safe, and it was good to see you. Bye now."

(The response from the man sitting next to her as she gets off at her stop?
"Well, she means well, but she goes off on a tangent.")

Elderly women these days. You know, honey, I'm from the new school! Mmm-hmm! Where crazy elderly women treat their fellow bus-riders with respect!

Monday, July 02, 2007

Midnight Haircuts of Yesteryore

Hey kids! It's first-grade Midnight Shoveler. By popular demand, I've decided to dig a little into old photos to show the many transformations of Midnight Shoveler's hair since...birth. Well, almost birth. And along the way we get to see the changes in American culture , like, in the change from 'scrunchies' to 'no scrunchies'. It's pretty revolutionary. So hang onto your mouse buttons, kids, this could be a long post.
We'll start with the very beginning. This is me, circa first grade! Note the lovely hairdo which emphasizes that my face has yet to expand to the rest of the front of my head- I think it shows how big my brain must have been. A stylish cut, I must say, for not having a choice in the matter.
The gray striped shirt is around my eleventh year. I discovered 'the part', which is big news for an 11-year old. School photographers also discovered the ladder as the pre-eminent prop on school photo sets. I kind of want this haircut again.

My teenage years entered a long era of neo-hippiedom. I loved the tie-dye. I embraced all that is wonderfully New Age. I started to grow my hair long and wear lots of great retro items, like bellbottoms and a necklace with a holographic eyeball on it. I had the power to seem like I knew what it was like in the 1960's though I had little clue. Unfortunately, in the process of staking my own claim into my own hairstyles, I allowed my mother to have a say on one last haircut, which apparently gets its inspiration from either Swedish milkmaids or by placing a colander on one's head and then trimming all around. Don't forget really awkward bangs, either. But I think in this photo I was really excited about this flower arranging book I just got at a sweet bargain, so I'm showing it off in front of the local five-and-dime. A few years later, the hair is starting to grow, and I have one of the best mullets I have ever seen.
Seriously, I think this is one of the best pictures ever taken of me. If I had this much hair again, I'd probably have this haircut, because I could have the shaggy confidence to pull it off. Back in 1997, though, I was unawares at how many cool Scandinavians would be wearing my haircut a decade later! Here I'm just babysitting (note the pudgy baby). I also am wearing a delicious gold brocade vest without a shirt on underneath and canvas moccasins. Hot.
Okay, this time around, I'd skip out on the moccasins and the jean shorts. I'm just sayin'.

This picture's a little tippy, but it shows teenage me at equal-length long hair before it got really long. I like this length on me, and should have stopped when I had a good thing going.
It reminds me of some angsty teens who have good guitar skills and you know that down the road they'll do something interesting with their life. But for now, they just brood a lot. I wasn't that angsty, but I sure wanted to be.

Senior high school photos!

Rockin' out with the longest hair I've ever had, partying like it's 1999. I took some of the poses from art photography, but some, like 'Tiger in the Woods' type photo, were sort of improv. The theme of senior year was that I have some pretty cool shirts and my hair was too long, but I'm a better person now because of it. And I always keep my hair clean.

As college arrived, my hair went for a hike, and I came into the 'wings' period. I generally like this hair for its 1970's qualities. And its sheer abundance, which I now lack.

From then on, my hair sort of changes every few months, with several home-made haircuts and let-grow-outs of varied success. I went from a 'Farrah Fawcett' to a 'gay ninja' (complete with safety pins) to a 'Rufus Wainwright' to a quasi emo look with a scruffy beard within a year. This is also the first emergence of the facial hair for Midnight.

Of course, there was that one crazy night in college that I was a piano-playing drag queen with a platinum bob, but that was nothing compared to my freshman year roommate's hair.
There was also about five minutes where my hair stood straight on end.
I look pretty rough and tough here, n'est pas? Like I could rock-and-roll your face right off. That short phase didn't last long either. But the goatee did.
These hairstyles revolved a bit but pretty much stayed the same for several years, as my hairline gradually recedes and all the hairs I lose from my head get transplanted to my back. But I do think I will make a fairly stylish bald man, and I can wear a short beard pretty nicely, so I'm not too worried about the day that I run out of my warehouse supply of Rogaine.
In the recent past, bringing us up to present, I've had black hair:
And a sort of faux-hawk, which I cut myself:
And most recently, I've just been enjoying a 'do it up, do it down' kind of ease, especially good in hot summers.
I miss having thicker, non-receding hair. I feel like my hair is a part of my personality, like a good pair of glasses or a unique watch. But I know that no matter if I have blue hair or two-foot long hair, I'll probably still be friends with the same great people who don't feel afraid to tell me if I've missed a spot on the back of my head that I couldn't see to trim. If I could get a hair phase back for just a day, I think I'd ask the Hair Gods for circa 1998, when I could have put birds' nests in my long hair and braided it all crazy, but I was too shy then to try. One can only be so daring when there are gym class bullies around. Then again, maybe I'll soon be fed up with shampoo and I'll enjoy waking up with a freshly-shaved head, moisturized with baby oil, and all I need to do to wash it is slap a paper towel across my noggin', and I'm out the door. I'll probably be on my way to look into wearing hats. I hear hats are the new hair.

Photo credit where credit is due: the Hall household, Kate Casolaro, Jaime Gullotti, Erik Reuter. All images copyright 2007 Nathan Hall/Midnight Shoveler.